Remembrance (dhikr) and reflection (fikr)

Remembrance (dhikr) and reflection (fikr)

The first lesson in the esteemed Naqshbandi silsilah is Latīfat al-Qalb. Upon this, the seeker traveling the spiritual path (sālik) engages in the spiritual exercise of murāqabah, where he or she sets aside some private time to sit and reflect on Allah. In this exercise the sālik strives to empty the heart of all thoughts and imagines the blessings and mercy of Allah entering the heart and erasing its darkness. As if in gratitude to being cleansed of darkness the heart joyfully calls out the Name of Allah over and over again: Allah! Allah! Allah!
A general scientific principle states that whenever a vacuum is created, something comes in to fill it and therefore the vacuum does not stay as is. Similarly when we sit and strive to remove all thoughts from our heart the aim is to create a void that will hopefully be filled with thoughts of Allah.
Darkness and light cannot coexist in the same space. Hence the more we strive to rid our hearts of filth, the hope is that divine light, goodness and blessing will enter to replace the darkness that was there. This is why it is extremely important to do murāqabah in abundance. Wherever in the Holy Qur’an we find the command to practice dhikr, the word is accompanied with the adjective signifying abundance (dhikr kathīr).
“O you who believe! Celebrate the praises of Allah, and do this often” (33:41).
What then is meant by abundant dhikr? At all times a person is either lying down, sitting or on his feet. Abundant dhikr refers to remembering Allah at all times in all these states.
To clarify this, the elders usually present the example of a man who falls ill and is running a high fever. Under this scenario his doctor prescribes antibiotics three times a day for seven days, so that it would take a total of 21 pills to cure the fever. Now, if this person breaks this sequence and has one pill every 3 days, even if he were to have a total of 22 [pills], his illness will not be cured.
Why then is the illness not cured even though the person takes more of the medication? Despite the accuracy of the diagnosis and the effectiveness of the medicine, it was not taken in the quantity prescribed by the physician and so the person remains ill. This indicates that quantity counts for a lot in some matters, especially here. Thus even if a patient skips a dose of his medication just one time, the doctor tells him to start the course again from the beginning for the sake of effectiveness.
Consequently, quantity in dhikr is absolutely crucial for a seeker on this path. A little dhikr does the seeker no benefit.
“Little do they hold Allah in remembrance” (4:142).
The result of this is:
“(They are) distracted in mind even in the midst of it, being (sincerely) for neither one group nor for another whom Allah leaves straying, never wilt thou find for him the way” (4:143).
A person whose dhikr is insufficient becomes a victim of doubt. He does not tread with confidence the path that leads him to his destination – his feet falter and he constantly changes direction. On the other hand, abundance of dhikr eliminates the darkness of the heart. It is thus that our elders tell us that the filth of thought (fikr) is only removed by the abundance of remembrance (dhikr).
How can a person tell whether a particular thought is inspired by Allah or the Devil (Shaytān)? Remembrance (dhikr) and piety (taqwa) reveal this distinction. The Holy Qur’an says Allah grants furqān to whoever has taqwa:
“He will grant you a criterion (to judge between right and wrong)” (8:29).
Furqān is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, the insight that distinguishes between good and evil. While there may be no apparent basis for making this distinction, this internal light [1] allows a person to differentiate between righteousness and wickedness. This furqān is a blessing that Allah grants to those who engage in plentiful dhikr.
So we must strive to remember Allah lying down, sitting, and whenever we are on our feet. The hearts of the believers should be connected with their Lord in every situation until the very traces of sinfulness are erased from every vein and muscle of their bodies. Constant remembrance leads to spiritual connection (nisbah) [with] Allah, and cleanses a person completely when it permeates the body. Such a person submits his entire being to Allah and his life and death become only for Allah, and Allah does not let down a person who so completely gives himself up to Him. The Glory of Allah is His alone, and He never abandons the one who submits to Him, but rather protects His servant.
The basic rule for one who seeks to gain all this benefit is to engage in abundant dhikr, and this is one criterion that the majority of seekers fail to meet. They give bay’āh [2] and most of them even change their lifestyle and appearance, but fail to do sufficient dhikr. If they sit for murāqabah at all it only lasts five or ten minutes, and they fail to realize that Allah is not found through mere minutes of murāqabah! Even the world cannot be gained with just a few minutes of effort, so how can we expect to reach the Lord of the worlds by such a meager attempt?
It is commonly understood that if one wishes for a meeting with someone of importance, then he or she will have to wait in line for one’s turn just because of the high rank and demand of the individual or party sought after. For example, people line up for hours and sometimes days for an audience with a famous movie or sports star just because of that individual’s high status in society. Now if people are required to wait for a meeting with another human being, then surely a meeting with Allah the Lord of the Worlds mandates a waiting period also. This waiting time is fulfilled through murāqabah.
A person who thus spends his life sitting with his head lowered yearning for a meeting with Allah , fulfills his waiting time on the Day of Judgment. Consequently the one who does not do this in the world will have to spend the necessary wait time in the Hereafter. But the wait time in the Hereafter is indeed grueling! Someone will have to stand in wait for a thousand years – someone for a thousand more.
Abundance in dhikr is so important that Allah ordained it upon His Prophets. Allah commanded Prophet Musa عليه السلام:
“Go, you and your brother, with My Signs, and slacken not either of you in keeping Me in remembrance” (20:42).
Whenever our elders say or command something, their words carry potency and weight. How incredibly important must dhikr be in our lives if Allah is issuing the command and on the receiving end are two Prophets عليهما السلام?
So if we want the love of the world and the darkness of sin to be erased from our hearts, the only way to achieve this is through abundant dhikr. Just like the earth is cleansed when rain falls upon it, hearts are purged when mercy rains down upon them through abundant dhikr.
Hadrat Shah Walīullah Muhaddith al-Dehlawi رحمه الله has written that there are two ways in which the earth regains purity if there is filth upon it:
1. Water pours down in such abundance that the filth is completely washed away.
2. The sun shines down so intensely that all trace of filth is burned away.
Similarly, there are only two ways to attain purification of the heart. One way is to engage in so much dhikr that mercy rains down upon one’s heart to such an extent that it eliminates the filth and cures the diseases of the heart. The other is to remain in the company of a righteous Shaykh and serve him, and like the sun the heart of the Shaykh shines its rays upon his heart. The resulting blessing (faydh) removes all signs of the filth and a person’s heart is rendered pure.
Thus, we should be frequent and regular in our dhikr so that Allah grants us annihilation of the heart (fanā al-qalb), a blessing attained after the heart is purified in which a person is forever occupied in the remembrance of his Lord. However, this does not mean that he always sits in prayer and forsakes all other responsibilities. Rather the opposite is true and he takes care of all his worldly and family responsibilities but with a constant awareness of and a deep connection with Allah.
The love of the world has taken over our hearts and we are constantly thinking about it! Even if we make the firm intention not to think about worldly affairs during prayer or throughout the day we cannot let go of these thoughts. This is called annihilation in the world (fanā fī al-dunyā). Today we are so absorbed in the world that despite our best efforts we are not able to rid our hearts of preoccupation with it. If only we would gain such a level of annihilation in Allah (fanā fī Allah) that we would not be able to forget Him even if we tried. Such is the station that we aspire towards, and how pitiful is our present state! It is our prayer that Allah grants us this lofty station, so that our life is spent upon goodness and our feet remain firm on the path that leads us to Him. Amīn.

[1] A saying of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم tells us, “Beware of the insight of a believer, for he sees with the light (nūr) of Allah.”
[2] Students begin their spiritual journey by taking an oath (bay’āh) with a spiritual master (Shaykh). This oath entails seeking forgiveness from Allah for past sins and renewing a lifetime commitment to living according to the Holy Qur’an and the example (sunnah) of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. The Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم took such pledges from many of his Companions رضي الله عنهم, and hence the act of bay’āh is classified by traditional scholars as a sunnah.


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